New York Café

It’s an all-too-common phenomenon in big cities: a local favorite restaurant, café, or bar becomes so popular that it eventually crumbles under the great weight of mass tourism. Perhaps some diehard regulars stick to their daily visits for a short while, but once the floodgates open in earnest to camera-wielding tourists, they too ultimately move on. Then international media and sightseeing buses pick up on the trend, usually belatedly, and the foreign crowds swell even more. The waitstaff becomes rushed and impersonal, no longer interested in offering kind words to the unfamiliar faces. Inflated prices are usually the final nail in the coffin, rendering the establishment all but out of reach for local folks. No one should blame the owners – who wouldn’t do the same when faced with unwavering popularity, a money-making machine?

Sadly, New York Café has followed this well-worn path. It occupies the ground floor of the New York Palace, an opulent renaissance revival building from 1894, once the local HQ of New York Life Insurance Company (and today home to the 5-star Boscolo Budapest Hotel). The café was long known for its bohemian crowd of journalists, artists, and entertainers, who often spent raucous nights amid clouds of thick cigarette smoke and wine. Countless stories from this time are now part of Budapest’s collective memory.

The space itself has had its ups and downs throughout history. In the early years under communism, a sports retail store opened in its place, selling sneakers beneath the frescoed ceilings. Thanks to a gut-renovation in 2006, the New York Café has regained its former glow. Marble columns, bronze statues, and stuccoed angels burst once again from the gilded interior. But the New York Café has not regained its native spirit. What visitors will find instead are tourists, packed like sardines, sipping on €7 cappuccinos and recording a live band that performs cabaret music daily (between 11 AM and 5 PM).